Guest Column

Manning’s defense dishonors gay GIs

By CAPT. R. CLARKE COOPER | Published: December 21, 2011

If he did what he’s accused of doing, Pfc. Bradley Manning is a traitor to the United States of America, and his choice to use “don’t ask, don’t tell” as a defense for treason is a betrayal of all gay and lesbian servicemembers past and present. Whatever his reasons or excuses, Manning does not deserve sympathy from anyone.

Upon enlistment into the Army, Manning swore to defend the United States from enemies both foreign and domestic; yet, if he stole and publically distributed classified material through WikiLeaks, he turned against his own country and became an enemy of the state. Perhaps the decision was an emotional outburst, reactionary or immature, but it was a conscious decision seemingly made by a trained professional soldier entrusted with a security clearance.

If he’s guilty, Manning not only violated security protocol and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, he violated the trust of his colleagues, the Army and his countrymen. Now that he prepares to stand trial, he has shown himself to be willing to sacrifice honorable gay and lesbian servicemembers to avoid responsibility. Lawyers for Manning are claiming that his struggle with his sexual orientation contributed to emotional problems that should have precluded him from working in a classified environment. This shameful defense is an offense to the tens of thousands of gay servicemembers who served honorably under “don’t ask, don’t tell.” We all served under the same law, with the same challenges and struggles. We did not commit treason because of it.

Log Cabin Republicans have long advocated that one’s sexual orientation should not be grounds for discrimination or dismissal in the workplace. As conservatives, we believe in the meritocracy of one’s labor. Good behavior and excellent performance come with reward and encouragement. Bad behavior and poor performance come with punishment and corrective measures. To justify misbehavior in the workplace because of minority status is detrimental to the morale and performance of others. For Manning’s legal counsel at Fort Meade, Md., to suggest that his orientation and/or gender identity be part of a defense or excuse for misbehavior is as unacceptable as the use of a “gay panic” defense by a murderer.

As a combat veteran and current reserve intelligence officer, I have testified to Congress that “don’t ask, don’t tell” was a hindrance to servicemember integrity, readiness and security, and was a waste of taxpayer dollars. Members of Congress learned that forcing servicemembers to hide or lie about their sexual orientation undermined servicemembers’ responsibility and accountability under the UCMJ. I told lawmakers that dishonesty was inherently counter to the long-held Army values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage. Repeal advocates also warned that dishonesty and lying are security threats. That Bradley Manning’s apparent failure may be a predictable result of the corrupting influence of “don’t ask, don’t tell” does not excuse him from personal responsibility.

Today, sexual orientation is no longer a barrier for one to serve his or her country with honor. It should never be a defense for dishonor.

Capt. R. Clarke Cooper is executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. He was a diplomat in the George W. Bush administration, a combat veteran of the Iraq campaign and currently serves as a strategic intelligence officer in the Army Reserve with a Top Secret/SCI clearance at Fort Meade. The opinions expressed are his own.